Crossing the sea to get to class
By crossing from one side of the island to the other, those children risked falling in the sea and losing their books and, in a worst case scenario, their lives: and because of these risks, some parents were reluctant to send their children to school, choosing instead to keep them at home, and as a result, a generation of children of Pandy Town did not learn to properly read or write in Spanish, the Honduras official language.
“Though most the children of Pandy Town learn to swim at an early age, some of the parents were afraid of sending their children to school because they had to cross the sea in dories to get to the school house” says Virginia Hernandez, a local business woman whose parent sent her to la Ceiba to complete her primary studies.
In the mid to late 70s, there were plans to build a bridge between Pandy Town and Oak Ridge Cay that are separated by approximately 20 feet at its closest point and 40 to 50 at its longest, but the mostly white residents of the cay, who were considered well off, refused the building of the bridge that would have connected the two community, thus making it easier for the kids of Pandy Town to get to the school house.
There were plans to build a bridge between Pandy Town and Oak Ridge Cay.
“They were going to build a bridge, but the people on the cay didn’t want it” said Edith Dilbert, a former student of the Marco Aurelio School that was located on the Oak Ridge Cay.
In addition to traveling across the sea to get to school, the children of Pandy Town also had to face the issue of language barrier; English was spoken at home and Spanish at school and most of the teachers that taught at the school did not speak the language of the students, who were fumbling and failing their classes, but being sent to the next grade in spite of the fact that they were not prepared to move to the next level.
“I made it to the third grade and am still not sure how I got there” said Joonel Solórzano, “We would copy whatever was on the black board, but we did not understand it because we did not speak Spanish and our teacher did not speak our language.”
Building of the Marco Aurelio Soto School
In the early 80´s a more appropriate school building was to be constructed in Pandy Town, but because there we no land on which to build, the new school building was diverted to downtown Oak Ridge. The two-story building would have, in addition to offices, six different class room that would house each grade separately, instead of cramming everyone in the same room as it was done in the previous school.
“Because most of the children attending Marco Aurelio school was from our community, when they decided to build a bigger school, is was to be placed in Pandy Town, but no one wanted to give land to build the school”, said Mrs. Thelma Almendarez, a community activist and a former council member of the municipal corporation of Santos Guardiola, “And some of the elders argued that it was best to put the school on the other side so the black children could mix with the white”.
The bad news, however, was that this new and much needed school would be built in Down Town Oak Ridge, an area known to locals living in Pandy Town as (the other side). The children of Pandy Town would have to travel even further to get to the school house and some parents were even more reluctant to send their children to this new school, but there was no other option.
The new school named “Escuela Marco Aurelio Soto” built on the other side was to provide the children of Oak Ridge, mostly of Pandy Town, as most of the kids from down town oak Ridge attended a nearby private school) with a more appropriate learning environment; however this was a difficult task because, even though the national language in Honduras is Spanish, the primary language throughout the Bay Islands back then was English.
Children who were not sent to Spanish school (the educational system in Honduras provided a Spanish only curriculum was instead sent to English school at the home of local teacher who wanted to keep the English language alive.
One such teacher was Mrs. Rose Pouchie McKenzie for whom the school in Pandy Town would eventually be named. “Aunt Rose would even teach some of the children for free” said Elda Pouchie.
The teachers working at the Marco Aurelio School, who were assigned the task of educating the children of Oak Ridge, were brought from the mainland and they spoke no English. The students spoke little to no Spanish making teaching and learning a difficult task for both the teachers and the students, and again, some of the students were being sent to grades that they were not ready to attend.
Extensions of the Marco Aurelio Soto in Pandy Town
Throughout the 80`s, there were extensions of the Marco Aurelio school proving classes to the generation of citizen who were not able to attend the school house on Oak Ridge Cay for one reason or another, but the school age children of Pandy Town continued hustling their way to class in dories and speed boats to the school in Down Town Oak Ridge.
In the mid 80`s Mr. Brimley, a resident of Pandy Town fitted a large boat with a small engine and offered to transport the kids of Pandy Town to the school building on the other side, as Downtown Oak is referred to by the resident of Pandy Town. Mr. Brimley did this for a few years and did not get back support and eventually he stopped and for the children of one of the oldest communities in Santos Guardiola, and back then, the community with the largest number of children attending public school, back to hustling their way to school.
As if the Marco Aurelio Primary school was not far enough, once completing the 6th grade, the children of Pandy Town had to travel to Jonesville to attend middle school or Plan Básico, again, traveling in dories or speed boats; and even longer ride compare to the travel from Pandy Town to Down town Oak Ridge.
Almost 40 years after the Marco Aurelio School was built, in Downtown Oak Ridge, the children of Pandy Town were still facing educational disadvantages and waiting for a school to be built in their community, which would affect their learning and their opportunity for a better life.
In the early 2000, an extension of the Marco Aurelio Soto institution was once again installed in Pandy Town, offering first grade only in space rented private home. Later that same year 2nd and 3rd grade was added to the program and the school was translated to the Methodist church in Pandy Town.
“An extension of the Marco Aurelio was placed in Pandy Town and the municipal helped us by providing and paying for two school teachers” said Vicky Leticia Sanchez Pandy, the first director of the Rosabella McKenzie Bilingual School.
Fighting to Establish a School in P. Town
In 2002, a group of local women, including Mrs. Rosabella McKenzie, decided that it was time for the school in Pandy Town to become independent and severe it connection from the Marco Aurelio School, they form a commission, got organized, presented a request to the Department of Education in Coxen Hole, Roatan, thus their long journey of established and school in Pandy Town begun, but not without difficulties and opposition.
The opposition came from the direction of the Marco Aurelio School and the director of the Dionisio Herrera School in oak Ridge Bight; they feared that their matriculation number would drop. “The director of the Marco Aurelio School and the Dionisio was against Pandy Town getting a school. He was fearful of his matriculation dropping, since most of the student attending that public school was from Pandy Town” said Elda Martinez a local teacher and community activist.
The request for a school in Pandy Town sat in the school district office in Roatan for years, going from the top of the heap to the bottom and back again. “Each time it reached the bottom, I would take it back to the top”, said Leticia Pandy, and (EIB) Intercultural Bilingual Education Teacher.
One of the problems with getting the school built in Pandy Town was that each time after election, the district employees would be replaced, based on the winning party, and this bureaucracy prevented the request for a school in Pandy Town to be noticed.
In 2007, a new school district director, seeing the need, and having the assistance of Leticia Pandy, an Intercultural Bilingual teacher from Pandy Town, who was back then a secretary at the school district office, decided to look at the request.
The Rosabella McKenzie Bilingual public school was finally approved in 2008 and that same years in June, Vicky Leticia Sanchez Pandy, who had previously worked in the educational district office and was instrumental in getting the school approved, become the teacher and first director of the school, giving classes to all 6 grade-1-3 in the morning and 4-6 in the evening, but that was only part of the journey.
According to Vicky Leticia Sanchez Pandy “It was hard teaching all six grades, three in the morning and three in the evening, but I had support of at least two of the parent who was always there with me, bringing food and offering support”
The following year, the municipality office of Santos Guardiola provided the school with two teachers, the matriculation increased and the fight to get a building began.
Building a School in Pandy Town
Between 2009 and 2017, there were offers from public and private institutions to build a school for the children of Pandy Town, but for different reasons, including the lack of land on which to build along with some political issues, the school was never built.
Mrs. Charles Sutherland, from Canada, raised funds to build a school for the student of the Rosabella McKenzie, and for years he tried, along with some community activists to make this happen, but because of the lack of land on which to build, some political issues and other factors, the building was never constructed.
Besides Mr. Sutherland, there were other philanthropist, organizations and institutions that attempted to purchase properties and build a school in the community of Pandy Town, however, finding adequate property on which to build had always been a problem.
Ten years after the Rosabella McKenzie school, named for a local English teacher who was a proponent of education and one of the local women who fought so that the children of Pandy Town would have their own school was established, and approximately 8 years of being housed in an old building rented from the Methodist church, a building was to be constructed for the children of Pandy Town.
In the early months of 2018, School the world was contacted by a member of the community of Pandy Town about the need for a new school and they responded almost immediately. After meeting with the mayor of Santos Guardiola, who was responsible for part of the building, and the community, who had to also be part of this three-way partnership, it was agreed upon to that the building of the Rosabella McKenzie school building.
In June of 2018, after much struggle and obstacle, the first building of three class rooms was completed, in a combined effort between School the World, the municipality of Santos Guardiola and the community of Pandy Town providing the labor, the children of Pandy Town had its first school building.
A few months later, another nonprofit organization, specifically (CEPUDO), via the municipality approved another three classrooms building for the children of Pandy Town, again with the land being acquired in part by the mayor of Santos Guardiola and in part by the community, the second building was completed in August of the same year and in September, the children was in their new building.
The future of the children of Pandy Town
Thanks to School the World, mayor Carson Dilbert and the municipal corporation of Santos Guardiola, CEPUDO and members of the local patronato and of the community members and the former and present directors of the Rosabella McKenzie School, for the first time in history, Pandy Town, one of the oldest communities on the east side of Roatan, has its own school. The children of Pandy no longer have to travel outside their community to receive classes, the disadvantages are less, and their future looks a little brighter.